On New Year’s Resolutions

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Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “What are you talking about? It’s the end of March!” Or maybe, “Is this an April Fool’s joke?” No, it isn’t. I want to talk about New Year’s resolutions precisely because we’re a quarter of the way through the year. Specifically, I want to explain how I’m doing with mine and how I think my methods can be helpful to others, even when it’s not January.

Studies say 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February. Well, it’s been twice that long, now, and I’m still going with mine. What’s my secret? I was careful and specific about how I designed them. And yes, there are plenty of guides online about how to make good resolutions, but I want to give my perspective as someone who didn’t actually think to look at those guides and came to this point by trial and error.

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Posted in General, Personal, Writing | Tagged , , ,

Ready Player One: A Case Study in Movie Adaptations

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Last year, I reviewed the movie Ready Player One, a cyberpunk story about a teenage boy trying to beat an evil corporate mogul to the most valuable video game Easter egg in history. To do this, he must solve seemingly impossible puzzles, fight a literal army of corporate drones, and even dodge real-world assassination attempts.

I loved this movie. I thought it might possibly be the best film of 2018, and that’s against some very stiff competition. More recently, I listened to the audiobook the movie was based on, and I thought the book was just as good.

I was going to write a post (or maybe even several) about how Ready Player One really did a movie adaptation right. Fans of books usually find themselves disappointed when a story is translated to the big screen, but I thought they really nailed it…but then something happened…I re-watched the movie.

When I saw the movie again, I was shocked to see it was not as good after reading the book. The second half was still really good, but the first half was far too rushed, and it felt completely different. So instead, I’m going to try to analyze what happened between book and movie.

The weird thing about this is that I did not think the book was wildly over-the-top better than the movie at first. Before my re-watch, I thought they ranked about the same. It seems as if something went wrong when they adapted the book to the screen that wasn’t evident if you haven’t read it, but now that I have, I just can’t look at the movie the same way anymore.

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Posted in books versus movies, Fiction | Tagged , , ,

Happy Pi Day

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Celebrate by eating pie. Preferably at 1:59 and 26 seconds. Or memorizing digits of pi. Or reading science fiction because it’s also Einstein’s birthday. I recommend Contact because it involves both Einstein-Rosen bridges (wormholes) and pi!

Posted in Current events, Science, Science Fiction | Tagged , , ,

Movie Review: Captain Marvel

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Captain Marvel is one of Marvel Comics’s lesser known superheroes. She (and he in earlier decades; Carol Danvers wasn’t the only one to wear the name*) was a minor character up until fairly recent times. Carol Danvers herself (under various identities) was even more so. However, she has always been a feminist character, and yes, Marvel definitely tried to play that up for her big screen debut.

It might be because of this that Captain Marvel has become perhaps Marvel’s most politicized movie, even weeks before it premiered. The trailers got a lot of criticism in certain circles, mostly over allegedly too-heavy-handed feminist themes and lead actress Brie Larson’s acting.

I don’t want to make this a political post, but I feel like I can’t avoid it because the result of this controversy is that I don’t fully trust the reviews on either side. There are a lot people who want to like Captain Marvel for political/social/cultural reasons, but there are also a lot of people who want to dislike it because they’re on the opposite side of those issues. And both of those groups are capable of distorting the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes’s critics give it an 80% fresh rating, but rival site Metacritic rates it at 64%. Meanwhile, on Rotten Tomatoes, the audience gives it 57%, fairly close to Metacritic, but that’s up from a low of about 30% (possibly fueled by bots). When the numbers are this all over the place, who do you trust?

Well, if you’re reading this blog, I would hope you trust me, so here’s my review. The short version is, I liked the movie. It wasn’t fantastic. It certainly wasn’t Marvel’s strongest offering. But it was a fairly enjoyable movie. I’d rank it above several MCU movies that got pretty good ratings from got critics and audience alike, including Age of Ultron, Thor 1 and 2, and dare I say even Iron Man 2 and 3. Again, not the best, but not deserving of the hate it’s getting.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Again, I don’t want to make this a political post, but I do want to give some semblance of intelligent analysis. Because I believe the movie did have flaws, I had to wonder how my opinion compared with the detractors’. So I went over to the dark side and read a few of the most hostile reviews to try to figure out why they say Captain Marvel is so bad and whether I can refute it. Bottom line: yeah, I mostly can. The haters are being too critical. This is a good movie.

What follows below is a list of the most common criticisms I saw and how I judge them from my own viewing.

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Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

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It’s the end of a great movie series. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the final installment in a beloved trilogy and one of the many highly-anticipated movies coming this year, giving us the final adventure of Hiccup and Toothless. It’s very, very hard to make three really great movies in a row. Depending how critical you want to be, it seems like only Toy Story and The Lord of the Rings have done it perfectly. And now, How to Train Your Dragon joins them, if you go by the critics. But honestly…I’m not feeling it. I think that The Hidden World, while still good, is significantly weaker than the first two movies.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

I think I can sum up my problem with this movie in two words: missed potential.

Spoilers below.

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Television Review: MythBusters Jr.

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Last year, the Science Channel continued the long-running show MythBusters with two new hosts, Jon and Brian, selected by a televised myth-busting contest. The new episodes were…underwhelming. I reviewed Jon’s and Brian’s season at the time, and I couldn’t give them that high a rating, but I thought they had potential.

Well, it seems the poor reception was shared by others because the show was quietly pulled from the schedule by the Science Channel with the last two episodes never aired in the United States. According to Reddit posts from Brian (BSforgery), there wasn’t a formal cancellation; instead these episodes are being held for a potential second that may or may not happen.

But in the meantime, we got a new show on the Science Channel, with Adam Savage coming back to host it: MythBusters Jr. This show is still like the original MythBusters, complete with full-sized myths and lots of things exploding, but the new Junior Mythbusters are six middle school and high school students (well, one’s a twelve-year-old college sophomore) with world-class skills in engineering, robotics, programming, and inventing. And this show is MythBusters back in top form.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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Why Do Debates About Evolution Fail?

In a previous post, I analyzed the evolution debate between militant atheist Aron Ra and Christian creationist Kent Hovind. In short, I thought it was very unproductive, so I wanted to write a follow-up post describing how these debates could be done better. Plenty of “evolutionists” have written refutations of creationist arguments…but in a sense, that’s exactly the problem. Despite all these refutations, the same arguments keep coming up again and again.

Evolutionists call these PRATTs—short for “Points Refuted A Thousand Times.” PRATTs are statements that are easily proved to be fallacious and sometimes even factually false, and yet are still used over and over again in debates about creationism. “There are no transitional fossils” seems to be the most common example. Evolutionists consider these points to be not worth bothering with and therefore put little effort in refuting them, which makes their arguments appear weaker. You also don’t really see people try to engage with creationists over why they continue to use these false statements or really pin them down and force them to address the inconsistencies in their arguments.

Based on the Ra-Hovind debate, I thought it would be possible to dig down and ask specific questions to try to pin down flaws in creationist arguments in a fair way that gives them a chance to defend against them, but also does not give them space to evade them. That’s what I initially wanted to do in this post, but after investigating carefully, I don’t think I had the right sense of it. When you really try to steelman creationist arguments—when you try to understand them and frame them in a fair and charitable way, creationists have answers to many of the questions that are raised. They’re not necessarily correct or even logically sound answers, but they do have them.

So I think I’m going to take a different tack and try to address why PRATTs are a thing. Why, in these debates, are the same points brought up over and over again, long after being debunked, making them never seem to go anywhere useful? Aron Ra insists this problem is simple dishonesty—even claims he has had creationists tell him to his face that they know they’re lying—but I choose to take them at their word that they believe what they say.

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Posted in Biology, Debunking, Religion | Tagged , , , ,